A few weeks ago my 5-year-old nephew asked me to buy him an iPhone. „You mean a smartphone?”, I asked patronizingly watching him stare at my white HTC, assuming that he took any white smartphone for an iPhone. „No, not a smartphone, an iPhone!” he replied, making me think that he just did not know the word smartphone. Planning to buy a new one for myself, I offered him mine, but I heard: „It’s not an iPhone! It’s an HTC and dad’s got an LG!” „But why an iPhone?” I asked him being sure then that he knew exactly what he was asking for. „Because it’s got the best camera!” said my nephew whose father has been into photography for quite a while now and has got an SLR camera that he lets their sons use. Regardless of whether an iPhone has got the best camera, indeed, the conclusion from the discussion that followed, which I am not going to quote here, was that my nephew wanted a smartphone with a good camera that he could carry in his pocket wherever he went and take photos of all the interesting things that were happening in his groovy life of a 5-yeard-old boy.
This made me realize that we have a new generation, both primary and secondary, of mobile-above-other-device users, who accept the quality of mobile solutions as it is in favour of mobility in itself. Since everything that happens on the Internet involves browsing and visiting websites, the implications for mobile web are huge and hard to skip. I will try to prove the mobile first approach, giving you some fresh arguments that have come to my mind after my chatter with my nephew.
Mobile-first generation of consumers
If you are into photography, like my brother, you most probably have a good SLR camera in your wardrobe. You take it with you when you go on holiday, or for a trip to a ZOO with your kids. In short, you take it when you have planned to do so, and if it is not going to burden you too much on the move. In the other cases you take photos and make videos with your smartphone that you, as a photography freak, have taken care to be equipped with a good camera.
Now think of all the other people who are not keen on photography and do not have an SLR camera in their wardrobe, nay, they do not have a camera at all. They used to have one years ago, but now? They rely on their smartphones altogether when it comes to taking photos. Just as with the camera, we used to have external hard drives for storing our data – now we use the cloud that we more and more often access on mobile. We use our smartphones instead of pendrives to pass files. We had MP3 players and now we listen to music on our smartphones. As to music, we had cassettes, CDs (!) and then pendrives with our favourite music in our cars, whereas now we connect our smartphones via bluetooth and listen to our playlists. We had car navigations, while now we follow our smartphones’ GPS directions. I could go on, but I want you to consider the reasons for this trend.
We all still have our external hard drives, pendrives, MP3 players, CDs, and car navigations somewhere there. It is funny that we do not have our cameras, but anyway. We do use them sometimes, but only if we have planned to do so, for one reason or another, and if they are not going to burden us too much on the move – remember that? So the reason behind our mobile-above-other-device approach lies all in mobility.
We no longer arrange activities step by step. Instead, we perceive them as wholes and concentrate on their essence. If we go on a family trip to the ZOO, we do not typically pack a camera, remember to take our favourite CD to the car and take the road map – we have the camera, our playlists and the GPS in our smartphone. We only check our calendar for a free weekend, the weather forecast and the opening hours – no need to say how. In other words, we take the tools for granted and focus on the key conditions.
Now, when we project this approach to the web and consumer searches, it becomes obvious why more than 50% of local searches are done on the move on smartphones. With the source of online information readily available in our pockets we no longer need to wait until we are at home to call for a free restaurant table, or to check the location of the closest gym. We do not plan our “browsing hours”, as we used to do, being constrained by our home-only desktop computers and cable Internet access. Nor do we carry our laptops only to search for things during the day. As I said, we concentrate on the key conditions and take the tools for granted.
Imagine you see your reflection in a store window while waiting at the traffic lights, decide that it feels unattractive and that you need to lose weight, so you move to your key condition, which is whether you have 2 free afternoons a week to go to the gym. If so, you have found the closest gym, chosen your personal trainer and registered for the first class before the next traffic lights, without even realizing it, all on your smartphone. This is the typical process for local searches nowadays and a truly good reason for mobile first, too.
The power of the first impression
I usually travel around my country with one and the same bus liner. Just as in case of the majority of passenger services nowadays, I book my seats and pay for my travel via their web service, which, with the exception of just a few passenger service points spread across the whole country, is the only option for buying a ticket. Since my bus liner took off a good deal of time ago, I had been sitting down at my desk with my computer on top of it on an evening a few days before my journey and buying my tickets in advance since then, until I sold my desk, moved to another city and generally started to travel more, and more unexpectedly, too.
My method that I had worked out over these years began to fail now and then. Once I had to extend my stay in one city and cancel my booking an hour before the departure but I could not do this, since I was out of home and my computer and, as a result, I had to give up on my money. The other time I had to set off quickly and I was forced to switch to a train because I was out of home again and could not book a seat. I started to feel uncomfortably with my favourite bus liner, being literally unable to use their services anymore.
However, somewhere around that time mobile network operators introduced digestible Internet connection tariffs for individual users, so I was no longer chained to my home for browsing. To buy my next ticket I turned on the mobile network on my smartphone, excited with the feeling of regained freedom. How disappointed I was when it turned out that the page had huge problems loading, that even when I pinched it I could not see it well, and that tapping where I remembered that the buttons should be located, still I could not hit the active areas. I took a taxi to the train station and I did so ever since then, except when I could plan my travels well in advance, and I did not enter their website on mobile again.
Around two years later, I ended up in a passenger service point queuing for a ticket. When looking around the small office I spotted interesting flyers piled in a wall brochure holder. They were vertical and around 7 x 13 centimeters large, and drew attention with both their unusual dimensions and intensive liner’s brand colours. I took one and try to imagine my joy when it turned out to be nothing else but a smartphone-like cut-out promoting their new mobile dedicated site. I can now continue my lifestyle that going by my favourite bus liner is a part of, without the need of making solemn provisions to myself that I will work on my time management skills and organize my trips ahead.
I am not an isolated case, though, nor is this particular company’s website, so just think of the number of people who do not return to the business’s service after the first painful encounter and of the leads converting next door. With the first impression of your website opened on mobile devices having the win or lose power, the mobile first approach may win the loyalty of your customers for years.
Mobile to desktop – wishful thinking
When a designer gets down to creating a mobile counterpart for a desktop website, especially the one that has been amended for years and has been waiting for a facelifting that long, too, they start from getting rid of everything that is redundant. As early as now I have set forth my first argument, which is that desktop websites tend to present everything that a business has to offer, and so much more. Some examples that I have seen include business owners describing in detail the 20-year history of arriving at their current position or offering a dozen of different services for target groups varying from hyperactive teenagers, through self-aware adults, to the cool elderly, leaving their newcomer visitors with no option other than to play „Where’s Wally”. With web surfers’ 8-second attention span, shorter by a second than that of a goldfish, it seems a lost case to me.
For so many years we have grown so accustomed to the all-for-everyone desktop website approach, that our designer will need to do the content cutting process not once, not twice, but even several times and yet in the meantime it may turn out that it is better to make not one but several mobile sites, each for one „Wally”. Look, we would never think of it in case of a desktop website, but it sounds quite reasonable for mobile. And this feels like my second argument – that we are more ready to accept practical solutions when it comes to mobile than we are with desktop.
We present on desktop, but we interact on mobile and we avoid interchanging the two as if desktop users were from Mars and mobile from Venus, or the other way round. Once, during a brainstorming on the visual presentation of a gallery on a desktop website, I heard that the images should automatically change so as not to make visitors think. The same gallery for a mobile would, naturally, be a swipeable carousel, but we would not question making its viewer interact with it. Another case is the way we present text. We adore essay-like static descriptions on desktop websites, but when designing for mobile we use collapsible content that you expand and fold by tapping on their headers. By the way, have you ever wondered how much text content you can fit into a mobile page? I have and I can tell you that mobile presentation solutions, like collapsible or accordion forms, are really effective, indeed.
The main constraints of mobile – the small size and unstable Internet connection with low bandwidth, have lightened and reduced the mobile counterparts of traditional desktop websites. Their content is limited to the necessary minimum and its compact presentation – like choosing what to read or how fast to watch – involves user interaction that allows finding our „Wally”. And it seems that what is necessary is sufficient, too, as there is no better argument for mobile first than a brand new website owner wishing their desktop website was as simple as the mobile one.
All this makes me wonder to what extent mobile first we are and how far this trend is going to take us. We have benefited enormously from the digital shift and some of our habits have changed along the way. I am curious if you have ever been in a situation in which you acted mobile first, but which you had never expected to solve the mobile way beforehand. Waiting for your stories!
This post was originally published on ActiveMobi.